Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #42: Car Bomb in Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload
Robert J. Bunker, David A. Kuhn and John P. Sullivan
On Thursday 7 November 2019, a vehicle containing a visible IED was discovered in front of a residence in Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato. The device was a ‘Papa Bomba’ (Potato Bomb) based on a FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) design. A Mexican Army (SEDENA) bomb squad subsequently rendered the explosive device safe. The placement of the IED in the vehicle has been attributed to violent competition between the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) in the town and surrounding region.
Key Information: “Hallan una camioneta llena de explosivos en Apaseo el Alto.” La Silla Rota Guanajuato. 7 November 2019, https://guanajuato.lasillarota.com/estados/hallan-una-camioneta-llena-de-explosivos-en-apaseo-el-alto-apaseo-el-alto-camioneta-explosivos-constituyentes/333962:
Un equipo antibombas de la Secretaría de Defensa retiró los artefactos que estaban en el interior de una Chevrolet color plata estacionada en la colonia Santa Elena Norte
Tensión en Apaseo el Alto tras el hallazgo este jueves de una camioneta llena de artefactos explosivos. De forma extraoficial trascendió que el vehículo estaba estacionado en la calle Andrés Quintana Roo esquina con Constituyentes del municipio.
Los vecinos alertaron de una presencia de un vehículo sospechoso en la colonia Santa Elena Norte sobre las 13:30 horas de este jueves.
La zona fue resguardada por autoridades, además elementos del equipo antibombasde la Secretaría de la Defensa y de la Guardia Nacional. Elementos de la Agencia de Investigación Criminal (AIC) también arribaron a la zona para resguardar la seguridad de la ciudadanía y controlar el manejo de los explosivos.
Aunque todavía no hay información oficial sobre el hallazgo, se sabe que la camioneta en la que fueron encontrados los explosivos es una Chevrolet de color plata.
Key Information: “Encuentran explosivos dentro de vehículo, en Apaseo el Alto.” Milenio. 7 November 2019, https://www.milenio.com/policia/encuentran-explosivos-en-apaseo-el-alto-dentro-de-un-vehiculo
En el interior de una camioneta fueron encontrados explosivos, confirmaron fuentes de primer nivel de la Guardia Nacional.
El hallazgo se reportó en el municipio de Apaseo el Alto, el vehículo sospechoso fue encontrado estacionado sobre la calle Andrés Quintana Roo esquina con Constituyentes, de la colonia Santa Elena Norte, cerca de las 13:00 horas de este jueves.
La zona ha sido resguardada por autoridades, además elementos del equipo antibombas de la Secretaría de la Defensa y de la Guardia Nacional así como Agentes de Investigación Criminal (AIC) arribaron a la zona para resguardar la seguridad de la ciudadanía y controlar el manejo de los explosivos.
Key Information: Jaeson Jones and Ildefonso Ortiz, “NARCO-TERROR: Mexican Cartel Uses Car Bomb to Target Rivals.” Brietbart (Cartel Chronicles). 11 November 2019, https://www.breitbart.com/border/2019/11/11/narco-terror-mexican-cartel-uses-car-bomb-to-target-rivals/
In recent days, violence in the state of Guanajuato between Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) and Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CDRL) left at least 25 dead, including five police officers.
Authorities in the town Apaseo el Alto also responded to a call of a car bomb presumably left by one of the cartels fighting for control of the region. A military bomb squad responded to the scene and deactivated the explosive device, Milenio reported.
The device bears the familiar features of a “bomba papa” or potato bomb, as they are commonly referred to in Central America. They are used extensively by the terrorist organization FARC, also known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia-Peoples Army...
Unfortunately, this is not the first potato bomb interdicted by Mexican law enforcement in Guanajuato. In October 2017, authorities seized a weaponized drone containing the improvised explosive device during a traffic stop. The state of Michoacán also reported four other potato bombs recovered in 2017.
Months earlier, a 17-page report from the Center for Research and National Security (CISEN) warned Mexico’s law enforcement that the cartels’ international expansion helped them to acquire new tradecraft in building potato bombs from the FARC. The report further warned that members of the FARC may be seeking work with Mexican cartels.
Key Information: “Dejan camioneta con explosivos y un hombre muerto en Apaseo.” El Otro Enfoque. 7 Noviembre 2019, https://elotroenfoque.mx/dejan-camioneta-con-explosivos-y-un-hombre-muerto-en-apaseo/:
APASEO EL ALTO, GTO.– La tarde de este jueves, fue localizada una camioneta con explosivos y un hombre muerto.
El incidente se registró en las calles Andrés Quintana Roo esquina con Constituyentes en la colonia Santa Elena Norte.
El vehículo es una camioneta Chevrolet Equinox plata.
Hasta el lugar llegaron elementos de la Policía Municipal, de la Guardia Nacional, de las Fuerzas de Seguridad del Estado y del Ejército Mexicano y acordonaron varios metros a la redonda.
Key Information: Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa.’” Excelsior. 21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937#imagen-1:
El Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) utiliza explosivos como los usados por las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), alerta un informe de seguridad nacional.
Un reporte de 17 fojas elaborado por el Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional (Cisen) indica que los cárteles mexicanos, además de droga y armas, obtienen de organizaciones internacionales estrategias para su expansión…
Pese a que el grupo narcoguerrillero las FARC firmó la paz y ya se desarmó, el Cisen indica que algunos de sus integrantes pueden buscar oportunidades entre las organizaciones criminales mexicanas.
EMULA CÁRTEL DE JALISCO LAS TÁCTICAS DE LAS FARC
El documento, del cual Excélsior tiene copia, alerta a la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, Marina, Policía Federal y a las corporaciones estatales y municipales a rediseñar las estrategias existentes para la contención y evitar la expansión de dicho grupo delincuencial, así como incrementar los protocolos de seguridad para garantizar la integridad física de los servidores públicos que participan en los operativos contra este cártel, que se plantea como el más poderoso a nivel nacional…
De acuerdo con el documento señalado, “el CJNG para expandirse y mantener su hegemonía recurre a fortalecer sus estructuras criminales a través del adiestramiento que obtiene de otras organizaciones delictivas de talla internacional; así fue como obtuvo la técnica de fabricación del artefacto explosivo tipo papa de las FARC.
Who: A Mexican cartel is presumed to have left the IED in the vehicle. The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is suspected because of the type of device utilized. The CJNG is engaged in a violent competition with the Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) in the surrounding region.
What: A papa bomba (‘potato bomb’)—with what appears to be a remote control radio frequency trigger and wiring to the IED—visibly placed in the front passenger seat of a silver Chevy Equinox SUV.
When: The IED in the vehicle was noticed by local residents between 1:00-1:30 PM (13:00-13:30 hours) on Thursday 7 November 2019. The residents altered local authorities. The scene containing the incident vehicle was cordoned off while SEDENA bomb technicians attended the scene and rendered the device safe. The vehicle was removed from the incident scene by 5:00 PM (1700 hours).
Where: In front of a residence on Andrés Quintana Roo street in the Santa Elena Norte neighborhood of the town of Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato.
Why: Unknown; the incident appears to indicate a case of threat messaging—overt IED placed in a vehicle to be discovered (rather for detonation purposes)—but no narcomanta or other messaging or communication was evident at the scene or associated within it near the incident.
At approximately 1:00-1:30 PM (13:00-13:30 hours) on Thursday 7 November 2019, a silver Chevy Equinox SUV was noticed by concerned residents parked in front of a residence in the town of Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato. An IED—known as a ‘Papa Bomba’ (Potato Bomb)—consistent with a FARC design was overtly left on the front passenger seat of the vehicle. Some type of radio frequency (RF) receiver was taped (with gray electrical tape) to the explosive payload covered in white plastic with 2 sets of white wires emanating from the RF receiver to the explosives. The door and driver window of the vehicle was also visible in the incident image—locked and rolled up, respectively—as well as a clear bottle of a some sort of liquid with the partial word “..OWER” on it (Refer to the incident photos).
Mexican authorities arrived at the incident scene and cordoned off the street after being notified by the local residents (See incident photo). Mexican Army (SEDENA) bomb squad personnel then arrived and rendered the device safe, at which point it and the vehicle were removed by 5:00 pm (17:00 hours). The configuration and size the device are consistent with an anti-personnel IED design and it was officially announced that the bomb was a live device. An early report suggested that a dead body was also left with the vehicle but this appears to be erroneous.
Concerning the attribution of the car bomb to a cartel operating in Apaseo el Alto, both CJNG and CRSL have past linkages to IED usage. CJNG has utilized Papa Bombas on number of prior occasions—including at least one from October 2017 with what appears to be RF detonation capability. Hence, placing an IED within a vehicle would be relatively simple for them to undertake. Although they have not deployed a car bomb in Mexico in the past (or placed an anti-personnel IED in a vehicle for that matter), they have however deployed a true car bomb (with anti-infrastructure destruction capability) in Colombia—via ex-FARC mercenary forces—a few weeks after this incident took place.
The CSRL, on the other hand, in January 2019 placed an IED in the front passenger seat (as in this incident) of a vehicle parked by an oil refinery in Salamanca, Guanajuato for threat messaging purposes. That IED was composed of Emulex, however, and had a different signature than the potato bomb/RF receiver combination found in the Apaseo el Alto incident. These signatures support the assessment that a greater probability exists that the Apaseo el Alto IED may be linked to the CJNG. This assessment is provisional and is not definitive (additional analysis is warranted).
In a previous IED incident in Apaseo el Alto an explosive device was left in a plastic bag with a RF transmitter in front of a residence on 24 October 2017. It was rendered safe by SEDENA EOD personnel and its signature is somewhat similar to the IED placed in the vehicle on 7 November 2019. The October 2017 and November 2019 IED incidents occurred about 550 meters by road from one another (as determined by geospatial analysis of the herein undisclosed locations).
IED with RF Receiver Placed on Residential Street in
Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato on 24 October 2017
Source: Mexican Army (SEDENA)
Vehicle IED Analysis and Damage Estimate from a Potential Detonation
The antenna on the detonator box that is attached to the explosive package discovered within the vehicle parked on a residential street in Apaseo el Alto, Guanajuato, and the antenna on a previous IED package discovered in front of a another residence in Guanajuato on 24 October 2017 indicate that the operating (triggering) frequency for both device triggers is likely to fall within the HF (3-30 MHz) and VHF (30-300 MHz) ranges.
The telescoping antennas on each package, while significantly different in physical length when fully extended, are well within the above frequency ranges. These antennas may have been salvaged from common AM / FM receivers and repurposed for this use. A portable transmitter using the correct wattage would be able to trigger the target receivers within a specific range [range undisclosed here for operational security] in urban terrain with height obstructions that are consistent with both locations.
Limited information is available on the explosive compounds that are currently used on these types of IEDs:
These IEDs are composed of a sphere-like mass of explosives tightly taped together with the inclusion of nuts and nails for a shrapnel effect. The initial explosive mixture utilized in these devices was potassium chlorate, sulfur, and aluminum powder based. Their use or possession in Mexico has been identified in at least four [previous] cases since at least February 2017, two in La Piedad (with one detonation), one in Santiguito, and one near Cerrito de Ortiz, all in Michoacán.
Papas bombas are primarily anti-personnel devices. Potassium chlorate, sulfur, and aluminum powder compounds are generally incendiary in nature when placed together and can produce a violent exothermic reaction. While mixtures such as these are not generally explosive, they can become so under certain conditions and types of confinement. Historically, these devices have been coupled with various forms of shrapnel, as described above. Therefore, certain chemical compounds may have been added to this device that would place it in an explosive-incendiary category.
Recent Guanajuato Incidents in Historical Context
This recent Apaseo el Alto incident is not surprising as car bombs—specifically bombs placed in cars with weaker anti-personnel payloads—have been appearing increasingly in Guanajuato state over the last year or so. On 5 November 2019, a suitcase containing explosives and a triggering system was left in a black Grand Cherokee that was recovered in Rincón de Centeno, Guanajuato. The IED was neutralized by Mexican Army (SEDENA) explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) personnel with no cartel attribution mentioned.
An earlier incident related to an explosive device (artefacto explosivo) left in a stolen red Ford Explorer abandoned on the side of a highway took place in Apaseo el Alto on 15 October 2019. The device—which was sausage shaped and constructed with tape and electrical cable—was transported by SEDENA EOD personnel to a remote location for destruction. No attribution to a specific cartel being involved in the incident was made. Prior to that, in September 2018, a White Silverado containing C4 explosives was found in the parking lot of the public ministry (ministero publico) of Apaseo el Grande, Guanajuato. This device was also rendered safe by SEDENA EOD personnel with no cartel linkages stated. A couple of years earlier, in August 2016, a Dodge Avenger on a highway near Pénjamo, Guanajuato heading to La Piedad, Michoacán was interdicted by Mexican authorities. The vehicle was driven by two individuals and contained a remote control detonation explosive device that was subsequently deactivated by SEDENA EOD personnel.
The use of car bombs in Mexico by the cartels has a sporadic history going back to the mid-1990s with a few bombings then evident. In July 2008 an incident in Culiacán, Sinaloa included IEDs with gas canisters for boosting purposes. A cluster of about twenty car bombs were then utilized between July 2010 and July 2012 in an intense cycle of cartel violence spanning the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Jalisco, Nuevo León, and Hidalgo. Since that time, a lull existed with no cartel car bomb deployment taking place until the August 2016 and onward incidents in Guanajuato state mentioned above.
Historically, these devices have consistently remained anti-personnel in their construction rather than true or full-potential VBIEDs (vehicle borne improvised explosive devices) with infrastructure destruction targeting capability as were utilized in Colombia decades ago by the Medellín cartel against the Colombian state or most recently by CJNG (attributed) also in Colombia. What the future now holds for car bomb use in Mexico by the cartels is unknown, although recent incident trending suggests that we are increasingly in an active phase of their utilization. Further, if the full-potential VBIED anti-infrastructure targeting ‘fire break’ should at some point be broken, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación would be the mostly likely current criminal organization in Mexico to do so.
The potentials spread of FARC explosives [both devices and tactics, techniques, and procedures – (TTPs)] to the Mexican crime wars is now clearly evident. Prior warnings of the spread of FARC tradecraft to the Mexican situation are unfolding. CISEN had previously assessed that papas bombas based in the FARC template were being integrated into cartel TTPs. All public safety personnel in Mexico (police, firefighters, emergency medical responders, Guardia Nacional) and military operators (SEMAR and SEDENA) involved in counter-cartel pacification missions need to be aware of the threat of papas bombas and other IEDs. The proliferation of these devices potentially enhances the lethality of cartel violence and may signal potential trends toward the use of explosives and car bombs (including the deployment of full-potential VBIEDs).
Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa.’” Excelsior. 21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937#imagen-1.
“Dejan camioneta con explosivos y un hombre muerto en Apaseo.” El Otro Enfoque. 7 Noviembre 2019, https://elotroenfoque.mx/dejan-camioneta-con-explosivos-y-un-hombre-muerto-en-apaseo/.
“Hallan una camioneta llena de explosivos en Apaseo el Alto.” La Silla Rota Guanajuato. 7 November 2019, https://guanajuato.lasillarota.com/estados/hallan-una-camioneta-llena-de-explosivos-en-apaseo-el-alto-apaseo-el-alto-camioneta-explosivos-constituyentes/333962.
Jaeson Jones and Ildefonso Ortiz, “NARCO-TERROR: Mexican Cartel Uses Car Bomb to Target Rivals.” Brietbart. 11 November 2019, https://www.breitbart.com/border/2019/11/11/narco-terror-mexican-cartel-uses-car-bomb-to-target-rivals/
“Encuentran explosivos dentro de vehículo, en Apaseo el Alto.” Milenio. 7 November 2019, https://www.milenio.com/policia/encuentran-explosivos-en-apaseo-el-alto-dentro-de-un-vehiculo
 “Dejan camioneta con explosivos y un hombre muerto en Apaseo.” El Otro Enfoque. 7 Noviembre 2019, https://elotroenfoque.mx/dejan-camioneta-con-explosivos-y-un-hombre-muerto-en-apaseo/.
 Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Weaponized Drone/UAV/UAS Seized in Valtierrilla, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload.” Small Wars Journal. 20 October 2017, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-35
 Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 28: Alleged Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) Car Bombing (‘Coche Bomba’) in Colombia.” Small Wars Journal. 5 December 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-28-alleged-cartel-de-jalisco-nueva-generacion-cjng-car.
 John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 27: Confronting the State—Explosive Artifacts, Threats, Huachicoleros, and Cartel Competition in Guanajuato, MX.” Small Wars Journal. 14 March 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-27-confronting-state-explosive-artifacts-threats.
 “Detectan presunto explosivo en Apaseo.” El Celayense. 24 October 2017, http://elcelayense.com.mx/2017/10/24/detectan-presunto-explosivo-en-apaseo-alto/ and “Detectan presunto explosivo en Apaseo el Alto; despliegan operativo policial.” ZFReporte. 24 October 2017, https://zonafranca.mx/zfreporte/hay-fuerte-operativo-en-calle-de-apaseo-el-alto-por-hallazgo-de-presunto-artefacto-explosivo. See also “DESTRUCCIÓN DE BOMBA ENCONTRADA EN APASEO EL ALTO.” YouTube (Informativo Ágora Video). 24 October 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUf0K7S8OhU. For additional IED imagery related to the RF trigger device, see “Dejan artefacto explosivo en Apaseo el Alto.” Informativo Ágora. 2 December 2019, http://www.agoragto.com/noticias/nota-roja/dejan-artefacto-explosivo-en-apaseo-el-alto/.
 See Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa.’” Excelsior. 21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937 .
 “Encuentran explosivos en la comunidad Rincón de Centeno.” El Sol del Bajio. 5 November 2019, https://www.elsoldelbajio.com.mx/policiaca/encuentran-explosivos-en-la-comunidad-rincon-de-centeno-4415556.html.
 The device in the incident scene photo appears to be in a camouflage day-pack sized backpack. “Dejan explosivo en camioneta en Apaseo el Alto.” Informativo Ágora. 15 October 2019, http://www.agoragto.com/noticias/nota-roja/dejan-explosivo-en-camioneta-en-apaseo-el-alto/. Also see this news source “Localizan explosivos en camioneta abandonada.” El Sol del Bajio. 15 October 2019, https://www.elsoldelbajio.com.mx/policiaca/localizan-explosivos-en-camioneta-abandonada-4321188.html.
 “Violencia y caos; incendios, explosivos y muertos.” Informativo Ágora. 28 September 2018, http://www.agoragto.com/noticias/nota-roja/enfrentamiento-entre-delincuentes-y-policias/.
 “Policía intercepta y desactiva coche-bomba en el centro de México.” Sputnik Mundo. 12 August 2016, https://mundo.sputniknews.com/america-latina/201608121062765978-Mexico-bomba-El-Cholo/.
 See for instance Ted Robberson, “Car Bomb Blasts Hotel in Guadalajara, Kills 5.” Los Angeles Times. 12 June 1994, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1994/06/12/car-bomb-blasts-hotel-in-guadalajara-kills-5/e890c219-7455-487a-b2db-0afed3be5f30/.
 See “Table 2. Contemporary Car Bomb (coche-bomba) Incidents in Mexico.” Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Cartel Car Bombings in Mexico. Carlisle Barracks: Letort Papers, U.S. Army War College, August 2013: p. 18, https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2238.pdf.
 Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 28: Alleged Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) Car Bombing (‘Coche Bomba’) in Colombia.”
 Additionally, an incident involving a powerful anti-personnel car bomb detonated in front of the headquarters of the Union of Towns and Organizations of Guerrero (UPOEG) in Xaltianguis, Guerrero state took place on 4 April 2019. A gas cylinder-boosted explosive device was utilized in the bombing which appears to have involved a local community defense force. This adds another dimension to cartel related—or even possibly community defense force on community defense force—car bomb use in Mexico. See “Suspected car bomb in southern Mexico injures none.” San Antonio Express News. 3 April 2019, https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/us-world/border-mexico/article/S...-bomb-in-southern-Mexico-injures-none-13741039.php#photo-17172455 and Associated Press, “Suspected car bomb in southern Mexico injures none.” Seattle Times. 3 April 2019, https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/nation/suspected-car-bomb-in-southern-mexico-injures-none/.
 See Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa,’” at note 6 and and Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Weaponized Drone/UAV/UAS Seized in Valtierrilla, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload.” Small Wars Journal. 20 October 2017 at Note 2.
 Ibid and John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 27: Confronting the State—Explosive Artifacts, Threats, Huachicoleros, and Cartel Competition in Guanajuato, MX.” Small Wars Journal. 14 March 2019 at Note 4.
Significance: Car Bomb, Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL), Papa Bomba, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED)
John P. Sullivan, “Explosive Escalation? Reflections on the Car Bombing in Ciudad Juarez.” Small Wars Journal. 21 July 2010.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Cartel Car Bombings in Mexico Carlisle Barracks: Letort Papers, U.S. Army War College. August 2013.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “VBIEDs in the Mexican Criminal Insurgency.” The Counter Terrorist. Vol 6., No. 6. December 2013/January 2014: pp. 28-40.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #35: Weaponized Drone/UAV/UAS Seized in Valtierrilla, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload.” Small Wars Journal. 20 October 2017.
John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 27: Confronting the State—Explosive Artifacts, Threats, Huachicoleros, and Cartel Competition in Guanajuato, MX.” Small Wars Journal. 14 March 2019.
Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 28: .” Small Wars Journal. 5 December 2019.